Natural and sexual selection are frequently invoked as causes of sexual size dimorphism in animals. Many species of turtles, including the Diamond-backed Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), exhibit sexual dimorphism in body size, possibly enabling the sexes to exploit different resources and reduce intraspecific competition. Female terrapins not only have larger body sizes but also disproportionately larger skulls and jaws relative to males. To better understand the relationship between skull morphology and terrapin feeding ecology, we measured the in-lever to out-lever ratios of 27 male and 33 female terrapin jaws to evaluate biomechanics of the trophic apparatus. In addition, we measured prey handling times by feeding Fiddler Crabs (Uca pugnax), a natural prey item, to 24 terrapins in the laboratory. Our results indicate that although females have disproportionately larger heads, they have similar in:out lever ratios to males, suggesting that differences in adductor muscle mass are more important in determining bite force than jaw in:out lever ratios. Females also had considerably reduced prey handling times. Understanding the factors affecting terrapin feeding ecology can illuminate the potential roles male and female terrapins play as top-down predators that regulate grazing of Periwinkle Snails (Littorina irrorata) on Cord Grass (Spartina alterniflora).
Additional publication details
Sexual dimorphism and feeding ecology of Diamond-backed Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin)